Cooperatives, farmers’ markets assist a wholesome meals financial system | Well being and wellness
The Great Barrington Farmers’ Market is home to many of the same vendors backed by Berkshire Food Co-op and Wild Oats.
PITTSFIELD – Lisa McDougall describes herself as a “big fan” of the Wild Oats cooperative market in Williamstown.
But she’s not your typical fan. As the owner of Mighty Food Farm in Shaftsbury, Vt., McDougall has a particular interest in the symbiotic relationship between her farm, Wild Oats, and the customers who buy her certified organic fruits and vegetables, both from the cooperative as well as at the Williamstown Farmers Market.
“When they succeed, I succeed, and when I succeed they succeed,” McDougall said of Wild Oats. “It is great.”
There is a tightly knit social, economic and environmental fabric in the Berkshires that is woven together by farmers and their allies and supporters. A prime example is the relationship between farmers markets like Wild Oats and the Berkshire Food Co-op in Great Barrington, the area’s farmers and residents.
Both stores – Wild Oats in the north, Berkshire Food Co-op in the south – are eco-friendly and co-operative grocery stores owned by members who are committed to the conservation of their communities.
“They have done a lot to attract local farmers and their products,” said Kim Wells, owner of East Mountain Farm, which sells their pork products at Wild Oats and the Williamstown Farm Market. “It’s nice when people say, ‘Oh, I saw your product at Wild Oats.’ It definitely feels good to know that it is being used right there. “
“Wild Oats is like a center of Williamstown,” said McDougall. “There is a real sense of community there. They have great newsletters and a great social media presence and membership recognition days. … If I have a lot (a certain product), we will sell it. They always ask me what I have first before going to a big distributor. It’s difficult to work with a bunch of smallholders instead of ordering from a big supplier and they do a really good job juggling all of that. “
Cherry tomatoes from the Williamstown Farmers Market. The county’s two food co-operatives – Berkshire Food Co-op in Great Barrington and Wild Oats in Williamstown – share many of the same vendors with the area’s farmers markets, adding to an intricate network that links the region with jobs and commerce, community and environmental Aspects supports solid practices.
Many of the farmers market participants, such as East Mountain, Mighty Food, MX Morningstar Farm, Hosta Hill, Off the Shelf Farm, and Tunnel City Coffee, are also sellers whose products are sold at either Wild Oats or Berkshire Food Co-op for seven days a week .
“The farmers’ markets are tourist attractions,” says Devorah Sawyer, Berkshire Food Coop’s marketing manager. “Our local farms and vendors are great, so why not come to our farmers market? And some of the other vendors (in Great Barrington) we work with also go to other local farmers’ markets, bringing the food industry together across southern Berkshire County. “
And the cooperatives do so much more than just sell local groceries and other products. In 2020, the two co-operatives invested more than $ 2.6 million in the region’s farms, local goods producers and service sectors. They also support the area’s most vulnerable residents and the environment, and have raised tens of thousands of dollars for needy local beneficiaries.
Berkshire Food Co-op’s sponsorship of Great Barrington Farmers’ Market enables SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) dollars to move further into the community so more people can access locally grown food. The cooperative is also affiliated with a program called Berkshire Bounty, which provides groceries for local pantries and makes healthy food available to as many people as possible. Each year the cooperative returns nearly $ 40,000 to the community through its Round Up for Change and Real Good Giving programs.
The community also benefits from Wild Oats’ partnership with Williamstown Farmers Market. The Farmers Market is the cooperative’s Round Up For Change partner for the month of June. All of the money raised from customers who round up their purchases to the nearest full dollar will be donated to their Community Essentials Initiative, which pays farmers for food that is then donated to local food supplies. In total, monthly partnerships like this raised more than $ 35,000 for local nonprofits in the first year of the Round Up program.
Cooperatives have never been more important to their respective communities than they were during the COVID-19 pandemic, when customers and suppliers alike seemed to prefer a more personal touch.
“Wild Oats had a really great system during the pandemic, from roadside collection to internal procedures, so people were still very comfortable there,” said McDougall. “And we’ve seen an increase in sales with them. We felt safe to deliver there and I think customers felt safe to go there. “
Wells at East Mountain Farm also found a silver lining in the pandemic: he sold a lot more pork, much of it through Wild Oats.
“I think a lot of people have really stocked up,” he said. “We have seen sales growth that we have never seen before. I don’t think it’s the same as hoarding toilet paper, but people definitely bought more than they needed.
“It’s hard to say how far that enthusiasm will take,” Wells said. “I think people got really nervous when the big (meat) packing houses started closing and we were inundated with customers shopping to stock up. I hope it’s a good sign that more and more people are buying locally. “
McDougall is also confident of what the future might bring, especially in partnership with Wild Oats and the Williamstown Farm Market. With the impact of climate change on local agriculture in mind, she does not want to envision a future without cooperatives, farmers markets and food suppliers working together for sustainable food management in the Berkshires.
“It would be a huge loss for customers as well as farmers and local producers if they left because they have so much local product,” she said. “It really supports a lot of small producers, farming or not, in northern Berkshire County and beyond.
“As an entrepreneur, it is important to keep up with the times and to keep pace with the wishes of the customers. In agriculture, some of these farmers are really feeling the extremes of the climate and are thinking of how to cope with this by growing crops. In this area, you can definitely see more interest in local food with COVID. It’s like any small business – keeping up with consumer demand, keeping up with the times and just staying on top of things. That’s all we can do. “
Contact Wild Oats at 413-458-8060 or wildoats.coop or Berkshire Food Co-op at 413-528-9697 or berkshire.coop to learn more about locally produced products and other sustainable food options.